La Roche, St. Vincent get one more shot in D-III tournaments
The St. Vincent men's basketball team and La Roche women's team have a couple of things in common. Both have won multiple conference tournaments in a row — three PAC titles for St. Vincent and five AMCC crowns for La Roche. Both are back in the NCAA Division III Tournament.
But there's one trait they share that they would like to change: Neither has won an NCAA Tournament game during their recent run of success.
St. Vincent (22-6) will face Bates College (19-6) at 5:30 p.m. Friday at Stockton University in Galloway, N.J. The same day, La Roche (22-5) will be at Thomas More to play Eastern Mennonite (22-4) at 5 p.m.
“Winning the AMCC never gets old, but there's more than just that,” said La Roche senior LaShauna Brothers, a New Castle grad who averages 15.3 points. “You want to go down in history.”
So far, La Roche has been on the wrong side of NCAA history. Four straight tournament appearances, four straight losses — by an average of 27 points.
But third-year coach Kam Gissendanner, a former Penn State and Clairton star, believes this might be the team to change that.
“They do have a swagger about them,” she said. “You get on the court with some people, and they know they're prepared to be as good as they can possibly be. That is something that they've had.”
Brothers is one of three Redhawks who averages double figures. The others are sophomore Sabrina McLin, who leads the team at 18.1 points, and sophomore Mackenzie O'Donnell (Butler) at 13.9.
O'Donnell also has used her 6-foot frame to become more effective on defense, increasing her blocked shots from 23 last year to 51 this year. She's eager to get back to the tournament and have a better showing.
“As a freshman, everything is all new to you,” she said. “That gym was packed. You couldn't hear anything. It was a very different environment. So I know what to expect.”
St. Vincent coach D.P. Harris also is banking on experience to help his team change its NCAA fortunes. Though the Bearcats have just one senior, Sean Kett, the roster is junior-heavy, so this will be the third NCAA Tournament for most of the players.
“This is the first time we're not going to play the host institution,” Harris said. “In the past, we played in a gym where there were 2,000-plus people, and 80 St. Vincent people. This is certainly not new to us, so I think that will be a huge factor.”
St. Vincent also is led by a trio of double-digit scorers: junior Pat Jones (13.3), Kett (13.0) and North Allegheny product J.C. Howard (11.8), a junior. They've been particularly strong down the stretch, averaging 18.2, 16.7 and 14.8 points, respectively, over the past six games.
But the Bearcats pride themselves on depth. Harris will use as many as 11 players, and he said, on a given night, six or seven are capable of scoring 20 points.
Five players led the Bearcats in scoring this season, including Greensburg Central Catholic's Ben Klimchock twice.
That's the kind of teamwork it likely will take for the Bearcats and Redhawks to get that elusive tournament win. Headed into her fourth NCAA, Brothers is confident she now knows the formula for success.
“You have to relax and let the game flow come to you. And it will,” she said. “If you're not hitting shots, you can do something else. You can play defense. You can get rebounds. There's always something else you can do.
“We're all going to be on the same page. We all want to win.”